Families of children with developmental needs will have better access to early intervention programmes from April 1, with new subsidies that will cut the cost of government programmes for most families - some by more than half - as well as a broadening of income criteria to allow more to get help.
Two new programmes will be added to better meet children's needs as they change over time. One of them, for children under two, will involve a parent or caregiver's attendance. The other lets children who have made progress attend a mainstream pre-school while receiving enhanced support from EI professionals.
To cover the subsidies and fund the two new programmes, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced yesterday it will channel $60 million a year - 30 per cent more than $45 million currently - into early intervention.
The enhanced interventions are expected to benefit at least 4,500 children and their families.
"We believe that with good early intervention, targeted early intervention and affordable early intervention, these children stand the best chance to improve their developmental progress," said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee after a visit to the Awwa Early Intervention Centre in Hougang yesterday.
"These children and their families need all the support that we can provide. We are going to reduce the cost of early intervention by increasing subsidies. On average, parents will see a reduction of on average of 30 to 70 per cent in fees."
Following the revised subsidies, EI fees will range from $5 to $430 per month, down from $5 to $780 per month currently.
Children under six with moderate to severe developmental needs - physical, sensory, and cognitive conditions as well as learning needs - now receive the same model of care under the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (Eipic) at Eipic centres.
The new Eipic Under-2s programme, to be rolled out from July at 13 centres, recognises that toddlers have different needs. A parent or caregiver must accompany the child, and will receive training in identifying and responding to the child's needs at home. Therapists and EI specialists will also make home visits at least once a month.
"This programme is also about caregiver support and counselling. The therapists will support the parents by helping them accept their child's condition, and at the end of the day, help them help their child," said MSF.
Before the Under-2s programme was announced, only a few Eipic centres such as Awwa required parents to be involved in intervention for children under two.
One of them, Mr Zulfadhli Abdul Rahman, 33, said he has seen vast improvements in his 23-month old son, who has Down syndrome, as a result. "The changes we see in Haziq are very drastic when we apply what we learnt at the programme," said the civil servant. "We need to keep practising what the therapists teach us at home."
Under the new Development Support Plus (DS-Plus) programme, children with mild to moderate developmental needs will get to go to a mainstream pre-school, while receiving support at the school. Currently, they stay at an Eipic centre until they move on to primary or special education schools.
Ms Tan Peng Chian, deputy director of Children and Youth Disability at Awwa, said the DS-Plus programme will challenge children to develop their potential in a mainstream preschool setting.
MSF said a pilot programme involving 700 children from the Thye Hua Kwan Ang Mo Kio, AWWA Hougang and SPD Jurong East's EI centres showed that those in the DS-Plus programme had the same or better outcomes than a comparison group of children.
The Eipic Under-2s and DS-Plus programmes will be rolled out in phases, with the EI centres in Awwa, SPD, Thye Hua Kwan and Rainbow Centre providing these services in July this year. The Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore will implement the new programmes in the fourth quarter of this year, while the rest of the EI centres will roll them out by 2021.